‘On takeoff roll, an F-101 came upon our wing; he was going to race us whether we wanted to or not,’ Richard “Butch” Sheffield, SR-71 Blackbird Reconnaissance Systems Officer
The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird Mach 3 strategic reconnaissance aircraft kept its title as the world’s fastest and highest-flying operational aircraft for approximately 24 years. It could survey 100,000 square miles of the Earth’s surface per hour from an altitude of 80,000 feet.
It is therefore not surprising that the aircraft has consistently broken records for both speed and altitude due to its astounding flight qualities.
The following story is taken from Colonel Richard “Butch” Sheffield, an SR-71 Blackbird Reconnaissance Systems Officer, unpublished book by Col. Richard (Butch) Sheffield titled “The Very First” (RSO).
‘Sometime, early in the program, in January 1967, I believe, we aborted and landed at Buckley Air National Guard (ANG) Base near Denver. The base was home to an F-101 squadron. The F-101 was an interceptor assigned to defend the US in case of war. The fighter community considered it a “hot” aircraft.
‘After we got out of our pressure suits and arranged for the take-off the next day, we went to the Officer’s Club wearing loaned flying suits and our white pressure suit boots. The fighter pilots who came around wanted to know all about our aircraft, like; how fast, how high, and the rate of climb. What they really wanted was to race us as we climbed out after takeoff. We declined all offers of information and races.
‘The next day, on takeoff roll, an F-101 came upon our wing; he was going to race us whether we wanted to or not. Apparently, the F-101 had been orbiting the field just waiting for our takeoff.
‘The SR could climb fast but was no match for the F-101 at those altitudes. He stayed right on our wing up to 25,000 feet where we leveled off to hit a tanker that we always did. About the time we leveled off, someone from the F-101 came on UHF and said, “You guys aren’t so hot.” So I replied, “How fast can you climb above 80,000 feet?” The F-101 made a quick exit.’
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Photo by U.S. Air Force